As you contemplate the phrase "Happy New Year" what goes through your mind? In other words, if your goal is to really be happier in the coming year, what should you do?
While we may think we know what truly makes us happy, science (and let's face it, experience) indicates otherwise. In fact, we Americans are slightly less happy than we were several decades ago. And happiness is not just icing on the cake of life. The pursuit of happiness, or well being if you prefer, is essential for thriving. Studies indicate that increased well being boosts personal energy, the immune system, productivity and creativity, and leads to better relationships and a longer life.
In the spirit of truly wishing you a Happier New Year, we offer the following brief refresher on the topic. For this we are drawing on The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. We highly recommend her book if you are serious about being happy. She outlines the research behind different strategies for cultivating a greater sense of well being, including the specific behaviors and attitudes that do and do not lead to happiness. Her book is wonderfully readable, highly useful, and very down to earth. No rose-colored glasses here. Sonja is a research scientist on the trail of true happiness.
According to research, we have the ability to impact 40 percent of our happiness through our behavior and our thoughts. Apparently 50 percent of our well being, or lack thereof, can be attributed to our genes. Another 10 percent is linked to our life circumstances like whether we are rich (or not), beautiful (or not), or married (or not). Before you descend into a pit of melancholy about your dour lineage and the limited impact of 40 percent, remember that this is true in other areas of our lives, like our health. Also, 40 percent can mean the difference between feeling depressed or feeling good, and between feeling just OK or feeling GREAT! (It also explains why sunny dispositions are not possible for all of us, even if this were desirable. Long live diversity and the mildly grumpy!)
Sonja describes in detail the why and how of twelve practices that result in measurable increases in well being when pursued regularly. She suggests that we focus on those strategies that fit our needs, strengths, and lifestyle, and she offers several self-assessment questionnaires to help think this through. While persistence is always essential to establishing a new behavior or attitude, she rightly reminds us that we also need to experiment by introducing variety and novelty into the mix as we tailor a practice to our lives over time. This is not about lock stepping towards well being. The pursuit of happiness is a creative act that varies with time and by individual.
In looking over the list, consider what you already do naturally, what you are interested in trying, and what seems most appealing.
We realize that our enthusiasm for The How of Happiness is because it echoes our own approach to the good life. We believe that with personal awareness and practice you can, over time, arrange the different areas of your life so that you primarily focus on living well and doing good. There is no single formula for doing this, but there are rules of thumb, processes, and people to inspire and guide you. Part of the joy is the creative act of figuring out what works best for you.
You can read The How of Happiness on Google Books. Alternatively, check it out of your local library or buy a copy at your local bookstore and share it with others. Take the self assessment tests and read the chapter on the happiness strategy that appeals most to you.
Try one of the twelve strategies for one month. Be sure to measure your happiness level before and then after your experiment. What worked? What didn't? Figure out how to modify the strategy so that it works better for you, and then try it for another month. What's the difference between the first month and the second? Have fun! Play! After all, what could be better than experimenting with happiness this January and February?
Sending you best wishes for a Happy New Year ... really!
Beth and Eric
P.S. As always we love to hear from you. Let us know what's making you happier in 2011.
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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